The Squid and the Whale
What I love about indies is that they don’t have to be epic to tell a good story. Usually the best ones are based on something personal, something real. In Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale it takes a familiar heart breaking moment in many families lives, divorce, and brings it to life in a new light. There’s a mix of dry comedy, heart warming beats, and dramatic tones. Sundance gives these indie-like films a place to come to life and breathe. The Squid and the Whale premiered at Sundance 2005 and it won the US Dramatic prize.
Family complexities bubble to the surface in this film, but really don’t break through. Probably the deepest aspect of the film is when Jessie Eisenberg’s character, Walt, goes to see a therapist and he recalls his time with his mom, played by Laura Linney, when he was a young boy, at the aquarium and how he would close his eyes because he was scared of seeing the squid and the whale and she would describe it in a way that made it not scary for him. After this illustration is set we can now see the squid and the whale are a metaphor to his parent’s divorce and a promising symbol for the film.
The actor/character who I feel really steals the show is Owen Kline, who plays Jessie Eisenberg’s brother Frank. While Eisenberg (aka Walt) expresses his frustration with his parents more internally, Kline breaks out externally. He’s probably around age 10 or 11 and he constantly is drinking beer and every time he does drink beer the Risky Business rebellious hot dream song comes on, and he is constantly jacking off and putting his cum everywhere (ie books in the library). This quirk adds a few other layers to this film and Kline really breaks through the dryness of most of this film with these quirks which exudes more heat and passion to the film.
Also, what makes a difference for good indies is good actors, and this film has them. Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jessie Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin, and one of the Baldwins.
These actors are the instruments for these characters and this story. In someways the film falls a bit short, but communicating a dramatic story through quirkiness, they have achieved what these roles called for. What I got out of this film as my inspiration for Sundance is that I’m going to be on the lookout for these indies that need to breathe and the life Sundance gives to these films. I’m very excited to go and gather new perspectives about life.